Stephane Ratel - Founder & CEO of SRO Motorsports Group
SRO Motorsports Group, the architect of modern GT racing, celebrates its 20th anniversary.
Our company was incorporated on January 24th 1995, initially to hold Stephane Ratel’s shareholding position in the BPR series and to run the Venturi Trophy, then renamed "Philippe Charriol Supersport trophy".
The next year, SRO launched the spectacular Lamborghini Supertrophy, which ran successfully from Melbourne to Laguna Seca and from Kyalami to most major European circuits for seven years, with the V12 engineered Diablo SV-R and GT-R cars.
In early 1997, only two years after its incorporation, SRO entered in partnership with Mr Bernie Ecclestone in the running of the new FIA GT Championship, which initially displayed direct manufacturer competition with the most extreme generation of GT1 machinery. In 1999, solely in charge of a redefined category that had been rebuilt around the former GT2 cars, SRO successfully turned the FIA GT Championship into a strong and stable European-based Championship with regular overseas events in China, South America and the Middle East. Key to this success was the hard-fought right for tuners to be allowed to homologate their cars independently from the manufacturers, which allowed the development of prestigious cars such as the Ferrari 550 and the Lamborghini Murciélago GT, which were instrumental in the category’s success.
The second key element was the introduction by FIA President Max Mosley of the Balance of Performance concept, to stop manufacturers from introducing GT prototypes in disguise. Its success in managing to equalize the extreme cars such as the Maserati MC12 with more conventional GT cars with true road-car origins, opened the way for the GT3 category, successfully initiated by SRO at the end of 2005.
In the meantime, SRO had taken over the FIA Sportscar Championship. After a successful experience running the two European events of the American Le Mans Series in 1999, SRO, associated with Mr Martin Birrane, entered in a partnership with the ACO to create the new Le Mans Series. Stephane Ratel introduced the concept of six-hour races on key long-distance circuits such as Silverstone, Nürburgring and Spa and SRO remained a shareholder in the Le Mans Series until 2011, shortly before the Le Mans Series evolved into the FIA World Endurance Championship.
Another successful partnership, with Eurosport was initiated in 2001, turning the FIA GT Championship, the European Touring Car Championship and the Renault V6 Eurocup, into the multi-platform LG Super Racing Weekends, which grew with increasing success until 2005, when the ETCC graduated to become the FIA World Touring Car Championship.
From 2006, SRO successfully developed the FIA GT3 European Championship, and spread the successful format of two one-hour races with two drivers per car to the many national championships that SRO had been promoting, including the French GT, under SRO management since 1998, and the British GT, since 2004. The GT3 format spread worldwide, and in 2007 SRO created a new series in Germany in partnership with Jürgen Barth and the ADAC, as well as a Brazilian Championship in partnership with Antonio Hermann and Walter Derani and also taking over the management of the Belgian GT Championship. A new GT4 category was created, and SRO entered into various partnerships, the most successful of them being with Circuit Zandvoort for the Dutch GT4 Championship.
Encouraged by 15 years of continuous success and development, SRO embarked on the ambitious FIA GT1 World Championship project in 2010, the first attempt at a World Championship exclusively for teams and independent of the manufacturers. This brought together a new generation of GT1 cars together with the older GT1 warhorses to create a truly global calendar with races in China, South America, Europe and the Middle East. Despite the sporting success, with some of the most spectacular races ever seen in GT racing, the Championship was never financially balanced and became less relevant when the FIA awarded a GT World Cup title within the new World Endurance Championship.
Despite the demise of FIA GT1 World Championship after the 2012 season, SRO was immediately on the road to success again with the Blancpain Endurance Series it had launched in 2011, as a direct continuation of the old three-hour, three-driver FIA GT Championship format. This rapidly grew into one of the world’s most successful GT championships. The season highlight was undoubtedly the Total 24 Hours of Spa, run in collaboration with the RACB and under the management of Laurent Gaudin, and which rapidly turned into the world’s leading endurance race exclusively for GT cars, with spectacular grids and exceptional racing.
Recent years have seen SRO step out of most of the national and single-make series it was running, going from a maximum of 14 different series at one point to concentrate on the Blancpain GT Series, which combined the existing Blancpain Endurance Series with the former FIA GT sprint series into a single entity, as well as the increasingly successful Avon Tyres British GT Championship.
With new programmes on the way, such as the GT Sports Club for amateur drivers, the Ultracar Sports Club for the most spectacular machines, the SRO Race Centre at Paul Ricard in association with Michel Mhitarian and the new partnership with Sepang International Circuit on the Sepang 12 Hours, SRO continues its development and is fully in gear for the next 20 years.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the FIA, the RACB, the national sporting authorities, all the officials and all of the partners for their support over the years, as well as the manufacturers, teams and drivers which have made this 20-year journey possible, with special thanks to the dedicated team at SRO, to whom we owe our success, most especially with those who have been with the company since the early days. First and foremost SRO’s Chief Operating Officer Patricia Kiefer, who has been working with me since the very first day of the company; Benjamin Franassovici, the Avon Tyres British GT Championship manager and newly appointed manager of the Sepang 12 Hours, Sporting Director Jacquie Groom, and British GT General Manager & Chief Financial Officer Bernadette Fitzsimons.
Finally, I would like to say thank you to all our commercial partners, the event promoters and of course all the competitors for their great sporting commitment to our series once again in 2014.